It may be a stretch to believe that Tony Gwynn, Jr. will see a large portion of the starts in left field for the 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers, but he's prepared.
When the Los Angeles Dodgers evaluated their outfield situation for 2011, they decided that they were very likely to need a good defensive outfielder on the 25-man roster, so General Manager Ned Colletti inked the second Lesser Gwynn to don Dodger Blue to an economical major-league deal in mid-December. To complete the self-fulfilling prophecy, the Dodgers signed noted DH Marcus Thames to be part of the left field solution.
A paladin in the outfield protecting his pitchers ERAs, Tony Gwynn, Jr. is, by all accounts, an excellent defensive outfielder. Geoff Young (no relation) of the excellent Padres blog Ducksnorts, upon hearing of Gwynn's signing with the Dodgers, wrote:
When I saw him at SDSU, the notion that he might ever achieve any measure of big-league success seemed laughable. But while with the Padres, Gwynn turned himself into a legitimate fourth or fifth outfielder. He learned how to use his speed on the bases, he got better reads in the outfield, and he no longer struggles to reach the infield on the fly with his throws.... Given the right role, Gwynn has a place in the big leagues.
And Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sport's Hardball Talk described Gwynn as "an elite defensive outfielder with 30-steal speed". While the sample size isn't particularly large - he's accumulated about 1.5 seasons worth of innings in centerfield - his career UZR/150 in the middle of the outfield is an eye-popping 14.2. That is elite territory - Michael Bourn is a career 12.1 and Franklin Gutierrez a 19.0.
What the Thin Gwynn isn't is much of a hitter. While not exactly a chip off the old block, Gwynn's stats do seem to indicate some patience at the plate and some ability to reach base, but very, very little pop from his listed 5' 11", 195 pound frame. The only 2010 Dodgers with significant PAs to exceed Gwynn's 12.1% walk rate were Jamey Carroll, Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez.
Gwynn's 2010 season was cut short when he broke the hamate bone in his right hand in a game on Aug. 18 and underwent surgery. The next day he received the double whammy of his Hall-of-Fame father's cancer diagnosis. While Gwynn did return to the Padres a mere four weeks later, he played sparingly to close out the season.
Did you know Gwynn has some famous relatives? Gwynn's sister is hip-hopper Anisha Nicole whose song "No Means No" reached number three on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart in 2003.
The first major-league hit Gwynn collected was a pinch-hit double struck off the Giant's Brian Wilson on July 19, 2006, and carries a career OPS of 1.350 against San Francisco's current closer, so maybe he'll bring some value to Los Angeles that way. (Sample size is five PAs.)
Gwynn is 233 games, but only 46 PAs from tying his uncle Chris Gwynn in those categories for a career.
Gwynn signed a one-year contract for $675,000. He is out of options and was arbitration eligible, which was likely a factor in the Padres decision to non-tender him this past off-season.
|2011 Projections - Age 28 Season|
|(Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)|
The "right role" may be exactly what the Dodgers will ask of Gwynn in 2011: make spot starts in the outfield, be a defensive caddy for Thames and Jay Gibbons, do some late-inning pinch running (he's a career 75% base stealer) and, as a legitimate, major-league centerfielder, allow Matt Kemp to get some innings off defensively. Don't expect a lot of offensive improvement though. Since 1980, the record shows that 28 year old OFs that already have over 1000 PAs with career OPS+ of 80 or less - Gwynn's is 75 - don't go on to show much offensive improvement, at least judging by the fact that the best careers on that list belong to the bad Brian Hunter and old friend John "T-Bone" Shelby. I will guess that the new Lesser Gwynn gets into 87 games, makes 147 PAs and hits .242 / .323 / .309 for the 2011 Dodgers.
What are the TBLA community projections for Tony Gwynn, Jr. in 2011? Give us your prediction for BA, OBP, and SLG in the comments, and feel free to add games, plate appearances or any other predictions you have as well.